EUROPE IN WINTER – Dave Hutchinson (2016)

Europe in Winter Dave Hutchinson (Langley)I read Europe in Autumn in 2016, and Europe at Midnight in 2017. I enjoyed them both a lot – Autumn was even one of my favorite reads that year, back when I read a book each week. But for some reason Europe in Winter has been lying on my TBR for nearly 5 years. I really can’t tell you why: I simply was drawn more to other books each time I needed to pick a new read.

The appeal of a review like this is limited: the third book in a series that was much praised, but that seems to have been a bit forgotten as well – even though this third one won the BSFA. Hutchinson published a final book, Europe at Dawn in 2018, as well as a solid space opera novella in 2017, Acadie.

Either way, if you haven’t read the previous books, by all means, read them – that is, if John le Carré-infused near-future thrillers appeal to you. The good thing is that you can stop after every installment: Hutchinson wrote it one book at a time, so while you do have to have read the previous books to enjoy each new installment, you don’t have to read the next one as Dave never planned a 3 or 4 book series.

That said: I had forgotten all the details of the previous books, and it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this one. That’s because Hutchinson’s main strength in these books is twofold: the world building and his knack for short stories.

Let me say something surprising about the world building first: I don’t really buy it. I don’t think Europe is under threat, not even with rising populism across the continent, Brexit and a bit of anti-EU sentiment in Hungary and Poland. I don’t see Europe fracturing soon. I didn’t think it last year, and I sure don’t think so since Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border about a month ago.

Yet it is precisely this aspect – the so-called “parlous state” of Europe that Paul Kincaid talks about in his excellent analysis of the book for the Arthur C. Clarke Shadow Jury – that gets all the attention in most reviews. That is not to say Hutchinson doesn’t tap into a certain real political sentiment. Indeed, the naive glory days of the end of history and the victory of liberal “Western democracy” are over. But that doesn’t mean the European Union is breaking down. It might be hyperbole, but I see the United States collapsing sooner.

Be that as it may, if you approach the Fracture Europe Sequence as “satire, extrapolation, exaggeration, distortion” as Kincaid wrote, it works wonderfully well, and the intricacies of the world Hutchinson envisioned continue to be engaging.

This is related to how Hutchinson build his story: as something fractured too. Basically, these books are a sequence of related short stories, it is precisely this modular form that allows Hutchinson to freely expand and build upon in each sequel – especially since none of the characters posses all the information, and we readers neither.

This form is one of the books’ many strengths, but in Winter it is also its weak spot. Remarkably, Kincaid wrote that “there is no point where [Hutchinson] allows the story to flag”, contrasting this with the previous two books. I don’t agree, as for me it was exactly the opposite. I thought the previous books nowhere became tiresome, and it’s only in Winter that the story did flag a bit: the final fourth failed to really grab me. That’s because Hutchinson expands his world in that final part of the novel yet again, and to a certain extent it felt like he stretched it too much.

So I rather agree with Jeroen, who wrote that the ending “seems to come out of the blue. We never really follow Rudi’s explorations from up close, so there is no sense that the story is going places, and when Hutchinson seemed to tire of his short stories he pasted the resolution at the end to round off the novel.” While the books seem intricately crafted, at the same time I get the impression Hutchinson made it up as he went along – nothing wrong with that, to be clear, it’s an interesting paradox that attests to Hutchinson’s writing prowess & skill.

I also agree with Anna Chapman in the Speculative Herald: “Europe in Winter is an elegant demonstration of its own themes: that life never ties things up neatly; that nobody ever gets to see the whole story; and that in life the story never ends, just branches off into infinity.” Her entire review is worth reading too, and Winter seems to have generated some excellent critical writing – there’s Nick Hubble’s text for Strange Horizons as well.

While the mystery and the action is great fun, I’ve slowly come to realize the big story arc doesn’t really interest me. I think that’s because it doesn’t seem to be the main focus, and you know you’ll have to wait for the reveal at the end either way. It makes that part of the reading a bit of a passive experience – the talk of mental puzzles in some other reviews notwithstanding.


Rather than add to the debates, I’ll leave it at that – I don’t have that much else insightful to contribute, not even after the world has been truly hit by a virus: the thing that caused Europe to crack in Hutchinson’s fictional version. Certain parts also reminded me of Christopher Priest and his branch of English science fiction, but I’ll leave it to somebody else to examine that comparison.

Final verdict: the first two books are excellent – must reads I’d say. All things considered, Winter is good as well, much better than most books, but I don’t think I’ll order Europe at Dawn. I’m sure it will be a solid read too, but there’s so much else to read, and I’m afraid it will just be more of the same. But if Hutchinson publishes a new novel, I’ll buy it blindly.


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29 responses to “EUROPE IN WINTER – Dave Hutchinson (2016)

  1. Thanks for the link Bart! I agree with your review. It is a good book and Hutchinson is a fantastic short story writer. And the first two books are really very good. This one is good too. But, to quote myself, I think that the “concept has run its course.” And history itself seems to have superseded it. I never picked up the fourth novel and by now I sort of moved on to other projects. So I have a question for you: how does this series relate thematically to Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again? Does Harrison write about the same conservative forces in England that Hutchinson writes about?

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    • Yes indeed, history seems to have superseded it. Not that I think these books are dated, and I think they will remain highly readable for the coming years, possibly even decades: in a way they are timeless. But at the same time, this aspect is something strange, and they are rooted in this sentiment that’s very specific to the years surrounding Brexit.

      As for Harrison: that’s a great question. I think both authors experienced this same sentiment, not wanting to leave Europe, trapped in Britain with some of their fellow countrymen voting Leave. But while The Sunken Land has a certain vibe I can relate with that sentiment, it’s all very much in the background if I remember correctly, like Harrison usually does: nothing overt. On the surface level that novel isn’t about Brexit or conservatism at all. But at the same time it very much is. Check out my review of that book, I updated it with some quotes from Harrison interviews on the matter: https://wp.me/p1tcLv-71c

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  2. Update: it seems that Hutchinson published another novel in 2018, named Shelter, in a new series, The Aftermath. Not sure if I’ll buy it though, don’t want to commit to a real series. He also wrote a novella in 2019, Nomads.

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    • Shelter is Triffids-ish & bleak: set in a postapocalyptic England. It seems like the series will be stories from a shared world, not necessarily one story arc, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

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      • Okay, more news: the sequel, Haven, was written by somebody else, Adam Roberts, and already published in 2018. Hutchinson will write the third installment.

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      • Paul Connelly

        Shelter is very, very grim. I think Kincaid is right that there is a deeply satiric aspect to the Fractured Europe books, delivered in a totally deadpan fashion. I didn’t get that from Shelter though. There is also The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man (not related to a similarly named short story, I’m told), which has its own satiric undertones, perhaps more muted than in Fractured Europe. Like Europe in Autumn, it keeps the weirdness under wraps for almost three quarters of the story before things go off the rails in a big way.

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        • It seems like I missed all those recent publications of his. I guess that means he’s not that much covered in the speculative blogosphere anymore. Or at least not on the blogs I follow. Also Goodreads didn’t warn, me – I normally get an email of authors I’ve read publish a new book. Maybe the imprints he published on are not big enough for that? Good to know either way, I always thought those emails were pretty complete.

          Will look into that Exploding Man. Your remark about Shelter makes me very interested in the thing.

          Thanks for the update, appreciated.

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          • Both published by Solaris. Strange. (And Koeur’s Book Reviews did review the Exploding Man, but not really favorably. I seem to have forgotten that.)

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            • Paul Connelly

              Most (but not all) blogs I read seem to be at least partially extensions of the publishing industry’s marketing ecosphere, dependent on ARCs and “blog tour” interviews for content. And much of that marketing nowadays falls on the authors, so the ones that are best at self-promotion and engaging with fannish culture seem to get the most reviews for their books.

              You can find the same new books reviewed on a bunch of blogs within the same short timeframe, less than a month usually. The publishers tailor the descriptions to micromarketing niches also, so it’s not unusual to read the descriptive blurb that they’ve put out and have to wade through several clauses, or whole sentences, that are telling you what demographic or tribal flag you need to pledge allegiance to in order to get the most enjoyment from the book. Then maybe a snippet about the plot, etc.

              It makes me nostalgic for the days when we could differentiate ourselves by our susceptibility to or disdain for extruded fantasy product (EFP, or “bad Tolkien imitations”). 😉

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              • True. When I started blogging (7 years ago) ARCs were much less prevalent. Ebooks have made it cheap and easy to distribute ARCs, and as a result most of the blogosphere has become as you described, clones of each other. It’s a shame really, I’d like more blogs that have a more diverse approach, not just the latest books, as most of these books are commercial tripe anyhow.

                The political tribalization of (genre) fiction doesn’t help either. Obviously art and literature have always had factions, but it seems a lot of content has become so obviously designed to signal affiliation more than to story internal logics itself. Because it’s generally so transparent, it’s superficial to the point that I avoid such books if I detect such signalling in the marketing because I’m not interested if authors cannot march to their own beat. Not that I want books to be apolitical, on the contrary I’d say, but, as it is with Hutchinson, it needs to be in sync with the story.

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  3. I think this is very fair. I’ve read all four of Hutchinson’s books and the first two have more conceptual juice, while the very last ends with something having just about enough of that to feel like it’s a meaningful finale to all four novels, though it isn’t all that meaningful really.

    The whole series survives on the strength of Hutchinson’s writing prowess, sentence-by-sentence and paragraph-by-paragraph, and that prowess is — as you say — considerable.

    He’s actually a better writer than Le Carre, I think, based on my recently picking up THE NIGHT MANAGER and giving up after forty pages of its sentimental, mawkish overwriting. (There have been Le Carre books I’ve admired decades in the past, but I also read his THE NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL LOVER long ago and should have remembered that Le Carre is capable of being a truly dreadful writer.) I say this based on having read some of Hutchinson’s short stories, too. I wish he’d write more of them.

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    • Thanks for the comment, appreciated!

      I agree very much on Hutchinson’s skills. I didn’t really talk about his prose and ability to evoke a meaningful scene effortlessly, as I wrote a bit about that in my previous reviews, but it indeed bears repeating.

      Good to read your assessment of Dawn. I’d buy it and read it eventually if I would happen to come across it in physical store, but I guess the chance of that happening is slim.

      I haven’t read any Le Carré. I do have A Delicate Truth on my pile, it’s been there a few years already, I found it cheap in a second hand store, but so far I haven’t started it. Someday I will, but whether that will be months or years is impossible to tell.

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  4. But that doesn’t mean the European Union is breaking down. It might be hyperbole, but I see the United States collapsing sooner.

    I fully agree with you on that. I hate to say it, but I think the next 50 years is going to see a big change in the world in terms of countries, borders, etc. Part of that is because of my eschatological view from being a 7th Day Adventist, but even if I wasn’t, most Christians view the statue in the book of Daniel, which ends in feet of iron and clay, to be a loose confederation of European countries.

    I was tempted at the beginning of your review to check these out, but by the end when you decided it wasn’t worth hanging around for new ones, that’s enough of a signal for me. While I’m open to experimenting (with new to me authors, ahem), there has to be some draw or something I think I’d like. I’m not getting that here 😀 Which is good really, because I just looked at my tbr is about 2 years long now. Probably need to slow down my already slow drip of acquisitions.

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    • The statue’s feet refer to an unstable power, right? But if you say you agree because most Christians view it to be a loose confederation of European countries, how does that tie into the predicament the United States is in these days?

      I’m not sure about you and Hutchinson. I think you might find some merit in the first two books, but as you seem to be a completionist, the best thing would indeed be to not start the series. And as Hutchinson is a bit bleak and gritty and irreverent, I’m not sure if it would be fully up your alley.

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      • Correct. The feet of iron and clay are the last great empire to exist in the world before Christ’s return. Depending on the person’s overall view of the Bible will determine just where they go with that.
        It ties into the US because there is no mention, that can be seen, of a great one world power that is one country, in either Daniel or Revelations. so most people nowadays think something must happen to the US to remove it from the world stage for the End Days.

        Thanks. Yeah, sometimes being a completionist really stinks 😦

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        • Thanks for clearing that up. It’s only tangentially related, but I’ve read certain aspects of US politics towards Israel & Palestinians are informed by certain biblical views of some politicians, in that they allegedly believe the second coming won’t happen before Israel is fully Jewish. Do you have any opinion about that? (I can fully understand if you don’t want to step into this hornet’s nest. No sweat if that would be the case. Not trying to start a debate here, just looking for some perspective, but I hope you already know me by now.)

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          • No worries. I consider eschatology to be very speculative and as such hold it very lightly. So I can talk about the issue with a large degree of dispassion (that’s not the actual word I want but I’m having a brain freeze) because I don’t have a “this is the way it MUST happen” line of thought.

            Evangelical Christianity (what’s most seen in politics here in the US) believes that the 3rd Temple must be built on it’s old foundations before Christ can return. They also believe that the rapture will turn a huge amount of the Jews to Christianity and they will be the proselytizers during the Tribulation, etc, as all the Christians will be gone.
            Adventist have a very different view of those events and even the End Times altogether, to the point where they are completely different things. I grew up in a non-denominational Baptist church, so I grew up with the evangelical view but once I moved over to Adventism I studied things a bit more and that’s when I decided that as long as I was ready for Christ’s return every day, it didn’t matter if I had it all figured out.

            I realize I’ve rambled so feel free to zero in something or ask more questions.

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  5. Paul Connelly

    If you enjoy Hutchinson’s writing, then it’s probably worth it to eventually try Europe at Dawn. I had forgotten too many of the numerous complications that he introduced in the first three books to really grasp who was doing what to whom at the end of the fourth book, but the journey to get there was still mostly fun. I really didn’t get much out of Acadie, but his other books have all been time well spent (although reading too many books like Shelter close together could be a serious mood depressant).

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  6. Thanks for the review. I thought Autumn was subtly, highly effective – a hit from the blue that I’m sure surprised Hutchinson just as much. With that, he scrambled to milk the idea for more, adding the parallel world in Midnight. I wasn’t a raving fan of the parallel world/Midnight. Good enough fiction, worth a read, yes. But as good as Autumn? Not really. Winter was for me the same type of stuff as Midnight: an extension of an idea that didn’t really need extending. Like you, I haven’t read Dawn. There wasn’t enough in Midnight or Winter to make me believe that it’s worth my time. I believe there is a reason we forgot what happened in Midnight before reading Winter…

    Regarding the fracturing of Europe, I think without Russia’s invasion of Ukraine we might still have been on that road – a long road and only a potential road, yes. But a road. Greece is constantly hovering on the brink of financial collapse, and Portugal is not getting any richer. Italy seems at the whims of its leadership’s intelligence/corruption – trending high, trending low. The UK did leave. I believe Hungary is/was setting itself up to exit the EU, and there is a chance that Poland, the country I live in, is/was too. The fact the the ruling party in Poland continues its cheap propaganda throughout the ongoing war using government-owned media is a sign that Ukraine has only effected the people and their willingness to open their doors to Ukrainians, not Polish politcians and their nationalist/populist intentions. And the US, while not technially part of the EU, is its biggest ally. And we all saw in Trump’s last days how fragile Western democracy really is. We’ll see…

    For me, the European Union is the greatest social experiment humanity has ever conducted, and a degree of proof we advanced apes are capable of something resembling civilization. But as the Chinese say, all great kingdoms must divide, and all great kingdoms must unite. It’s looking like our current moment in history is leaning more toward the collapse of Russia than the EU, but who knows what 10 or 20 years hold… Maybe Hutchinson is right and there are parallel worlds? (Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

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    • Just read your reviews – somehow I forgot to check if you reviewed them, I try to do so with the blogs I follow to avoid overlap – I think we are generally on the same page indeed. I didn’t mind the parallel world in Midnight though, but the extension in Winter for me was a bit too much too.

      As for Europe itself, I agree, it was under stress, and it will continue to be so, but from my own perspective, as citizen of one of the 6 countries from the European Coal and Steel Community, the proto-EU so to say, the fact that some countries like Poland, Greece or Hungary might drop out doesn’t really feel like an existential threat to the EU. From our perspective, the EU has grown a bit too much too fast, and we always knew that could go wrong.
      EU27 might fracture to something a bit smaller indeed, but I think we have never been on a road to full fracture – so far.

      That said, we shouldn’t take stuff for granted, and there indeed is a fragility inherent to the way we live here as it is embedded in a much larger world we cannot control. Covid was a stress test, climate will be so too, currently changing geopolitics as well, so indeed, who knows how things will look like in a few decades.

      So maybe we are on a road to fracture already, but for me the populism of Brexit, Hungary, etc. isn’t/wasn’t really a warning light, again, because I feel that as a citizen of a country/region that had a nationalist & racist extreme right wing party winning over 20% already in the 1990ies, it aren’t these sentiments that will break Europe, because those feelings have always been here – I always assumed 20-25% of the people are susceptible to such rhetoric. What will break Europe will be financial collapse in the core countries, and that might happen because of climate & geopolitics, not internal squabbling.

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    • (That said, the triple social experiment of algorithmic social media bubbles, foreign troll armies that spread disinformation & stricter government control of traditional media in certain countries is only just starting, so internal squabbling might still be the death of the kingdom.)

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  7. I read the first installment and while intellectually appreciated it I never emotinally engaged in it, nor was interested in the fate of the characters. The fantasy/sf elements were a step too far for me in what I first thought was indeed a le Carre-sque thriller. So while I rated it 9/10 at the time (https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2015/06/24/david-hutchinson-europe-in-autumn-2014/), I somehow never returned to Hutchinson’s world 😉 Maybe I should remedy it 😉

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  8. Paul Connelly: ‘The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man (not related to a similarly named short story, I’m told’

    It *is* related. It’s an expansion to novel-length and quite weak at points — very much feeling like Hutchinson had to get some product out, IMO.

    The original ‘Exploding Man’ short story is very good, on the other hand.

    As for other new Hutchinson, he did a novella called ‘Nomads’ for NewConn Press in 2019–

    It *is* back to Hutchinson’s previous standards and would benefit from further development at novel-length.

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